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Space Age Technologies: Mathias Tölken, Chris Welham and Mark Geschke

An IT company carves a niche for itself by specialising in the SME sector and committing itself to ongoing innovation.

Juliet Pitman

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In a competitive market, knowing your niche and sticking to what you do best is a proven strategy for success. Just ask the guys at Space Age Technologies. With IT consultancies a dime a dozen, company founders Chris Welham, Mark Geschke and Mathias Tölken have carved a niche for themselves servicing the needs of small to medium businesses.

“Everything about us, everything we offer is finely tuned to the small and medium business’s needs, goals and budgets,” explains Welham. In doing so, they’ve proved that specialisation can deliver a unique competitive advantage and offer critical differentiation to a brand. Based in Cape Town, since 2004 Space Age Technologies has been listed as a Microsoft Award finalist or winner and in 2007 won the Networking Infrastructure Partner of the Year Award – not bad going considering they were up against 600 000 other Microsoft partners around the world. Geschke was recently named among the MSP Mentor Top 250 Most Influential People and, perhaps most importantly of all, Space Age Technologies has maintained a customer retention rate of 94% over the past three years.

Seeing the gap

“When Space Age Technologies started out, the SME segment of the market was very under-serviced from an IT point of view. Small to medium companies really had to get by on their own. We saw a gap,” says co-founder Welham. Like many gaps in the market, the one they identified existed partly because it wasn’t an easy or obvious market to service.

“It’s true that the SME market comes with its challenges. For one thing, SMEs have much smaller budgets and run leaner operations, so that places a limitation on what you can charge them. “In addition, SME owners are typically brilliant in their own fields but they often lack a comprehensive understanding of technology, and don’t recognise the real value it can deliver to their business,” says Welham.

But for those who are willing to find solutions to such challenges, the market is there for the taking and Space Age Technologies was up to the task. To get around the budgetary constraints, Welham, Tölken and Geschke initially drew very small salaries – until they hit upon an innovative solution that addressed the challenge in the long-term. Welham explains, “Today its known as managed services and loads of companies do it, but at the time it was a new and untried concept. We realised that if we charged a fixed amount to provide all the necessary service and support for our clients, we’d be able to generate ongoing income and they would be able to budget better for their IT needs. It was a win-win situation.”

Ongoing innovation

But in order for the managed services model to be effective, the company had to make a significant investment in systems that would allow it to monitor and manage multiple machines and servers. “In 2001 we developed a software system called SATAware that allowed us to automatically monitor our clients’ servers,” says Welham. Over time the company has refined and evolved this software, which generates weekly automated reports for all Space Age Technologies’ clients.

The company founders know that, while they may have captured the SME market early on, first mover advantage can only differentiate them in the market for a certain period of time before their competitors catch up. “This is why ongoing innovation is part of our DNA. In the IT industry, you need to innovate just to keep up, let alone to retain a leadership position,” says Welham.

Developing value-adding solutions

A comprehensive understanding of their niche market’s needs has played a pivotal role in allowing the company to develop new, value-adding and relevant solutions. One example is an offering known as Virtual CIO. “SMEs typically can’t afford to employ a chief
information officer but IT strategy, planning and budgeting is as important to their businesses as it is to that of large corporates.

“The Virtual CIO service is bundled together with the managed services option and allows clients to make sure that their business strategy and goals are supported by their IT infrastructure. It includes strategy, budgeting, risk identification and assessment, and capacity and growth planning,” explains Welham. Clients, understandably, love the idea and it provides the company with a valuable insight into their clients’ business needs, which allows them to identify additional business opportunities.

At the moment, Space Age is busy refining an IT Intermediate Objectives (IO) Map specifically for the needs of small to medium businesses. “It uses the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) and Theory of Constraints (TOC) principles, but has been built entirely by ourselves and has been developed to provide a clear picture of all the IT services SMEs require. It’s a work in progress and for the moment, we’ve made it available on our blog for public comment so that we can refine and improve it,” says Welham. Such visionary practices will be instrumental in helping Space Age Technologies achieve its three-year goal, as Welham outlines, “We want to be the top-of-mind integrator of IT services to SMEs in all markets we choose to compete in. Our next step is to establish a firm presence in Johannesburg.” N

Space Age Technologies
Players: Mathias Tölken, Chris Welham and Mark Geschke
Est: 1994
Contact: +27 21 88 77 292
www.spaceage.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Nhlanhla Dlamini Not Only Has Guts, But Grit – In Spades

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla Dlamini did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

Wits Business School

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It takes guts to venture into entrepreneurship. And when you’re in a ‘cushy’ job with a top global auditing firm who are grooming you for partnership, it takes even more guts.

Nhlanhla Dlamini not only has guts, but grit – in spades.

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

“I started thinking, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life?’”, recalls Nhlanhla. “I always felt a pressing need to get involved in lowering the unemployment rate in South Africa.  It’s a notoriously difficult space, but entrepreneurship is the real engine of job creation and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.”

When he left his job at McKinsey in March 2015, Nhlanhla decided to explore the agricultural sector – having no idea what product or what part of the value chain he would end up in. He spent until December that year exploring the agri-food sector, gaining as much understanding as he could about the entire industry by talking to famers, co-ops, agricultural associations and various other stakeholders.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

“I wanted to export products to the US and I looked at tree nuts, blueberries, dairy products or meat. Because of stringent FDA regulations, meat wasn’t an option – but a friend of mine from WBS days suggested meat in the form of pet food.”

And so Maneli Pets was born, and Nhlanhla moved his fledgling business into a factory, which he re-purposed for meat processing, in October 2016. By June 2017, he had started operations with 30 employees on board, and by September he had 50 employees.

Maneli Pets

What makes Maneli different from other US-bound pet food products in an already saturated market? The answer is high protein meat from animals that are unique to South Africa.

“I discovered a market for the off-cuts of meat  from specialist butcheries – so crocodile, warthog, ostrich etc,” Nhlanhla explains. “The result is a very high quality, high protein pet snack with a difference – and US pet owners are willing to pay for the best they can get.”

Under the brand name ‘Roam’, Maneli Pets products are exported to a pet food wholesaler in Boston, US, owned by the family of Nhlanhla’s former WBS classmate, who had planted the seed of the idea in the first place.  Nhlanhla is now preparing to launch the products under another brand name for distribution in South Africa and export to the EU.

But pet food is only the start. Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company which is looking ooking to build further businesses in the green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship.

According to a City Press report, South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, which is why government is actively promoting agro-processing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.

Nhlanhla has worked tirelessly to secure government funding, and was thrilled to obtain R26 million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Just last month, he received the news that Maneli Pets had been awarded grant funding of R12.5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Black Industrialists Scheme (BIS).

Nhlanhla, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, considers his PDM at WBS a “superb” way of preparing a student for the real world of work. “The group dynamics was an essential learning experience in terms of delivering on a mandate with a group with entirely different skill sets.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Describing himself as a “passionate and active WBS alumnus”, Nlhanhla still stays in regular contact with a core group from his PDM class, proving that one of the enduring benefits of a PDM (and an MBA) is the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people and form life-long friendships.

Apart from what he learnt in the Entrepreneurship Management module of the PDM, such as the pillars of entrepreneurship, macro trend support and financing an idea, Nhlanhla considers the keys to success are threefold: Recognising the value of a social network, tenacity – and just a little luck!

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See Will.i.am And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

The BCX Disrupt Summit has gathered some of the world’s most innovative and disruptive thinkers to guide you and your business into the future.

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See Will.i.am And Malcolm Gladwell Live In South Africa

As one of the largest technology players in South Africa, BCX embraces disruption. As an organisation, one of its primary focuses is to move its customers into the future, not just with products and services, but a shift in mindset as well.

What tools and ideas do we need to embrace today to be ahead of the curve tomorrow? With this in mind, BCX has partnered with BrainFarm to launch the inaugural BCX Disrupt Summit.

“The BCXDisrupt Summit is a platform for South African innovators and businesses to learn from and be inspired by some of the greatest examples of possibility in the world,” says Dean Carlson, founder and CEO of BrainFarm, the event organisers.

A gathering of minds

The BCXDisrupt Summit is bringing some of the world’s greatest minds together under one roof for two days. The speaker line-up includes will.i.am, Malcolm Gladwell, Rapelang Rabana and Nick Goldman and topics covered will range from where technology is heading, to how playing games can extend your life expectancy by up to ten years.

will.i.am

will.i.am

Seven-time Grammy award winning hip hop artist will.i.am is also a significant player in the tech and entrepreneurial space, as well as a philanthropist. He was a partner in Beats Electronics, which was sold to Apple for $3 billion in 2014. “When will.i.am was 16 years old, music was where it was at,” says Dean.

“And so, he focused on building a music career, and creating products for that industry. Today he’s learning to code, because that’s where it’s at. He’s got an unparalleled handle on where the world is moving to, and so many insights to share.”

Dean has built BrainFarm on a portfolio of incredible local and international speakers, each of whom he’s seen live. “I regularly attend international conferences to get a sense of which speakers and idea-shapers I’d like to bring to South Africa,” he explains.

“will.i.am is one of those global shapers whose ideas take everything to the next level. To get maximum value from him for our delegates, we’ve chosen an interview set-up instead of a key-note talk. Local tech expert Aki Anastasiou will be interviewing him, and the audience will be able to ask questions as well. This will give us an opportunity to localise will.i.am’s knowledge and ideas.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

Author of five New York Times bestsellers, including David and Goliath and Outliers Gladwell is well known for introducing the concept of the 10 000-hour rule, which states anyone can become an expert in anything given enough time and practice. Dean first brought Malcolm Gladwell to South Africa in 2009.

“When I dropped him off at the airport, Malcolm signed his book for me with the words ‘Please invite me back,” says Dean.

“We’ve tried to bring him out a few times since then, but the timing hasn’t worked out. This was the ideal summit for Malcolm’s ideas, and this time, the timing worked.”

Having seen Malcolm in action many times over the years, Dean knows that he’s a speaker that always leaves his audiences wanting more. And so, the BrainFarm team thought about the best way give their delegates exactly that.

“Malcolm has developed a masterclass for the second day of the Summit that will focus on what makes a person successful, both in life and business. He’ll be unpacking tools our delegates can use to personally drive success.”

Nick Goldman

Nick Goldman

Nick is that rare breed of academic who is also an engaging and entertaining speaker. A UK-based mathematician and genome scientist, Nick is passionate about how we can store and preserve digital data.

“If you want to feed your brain, Nick is the person who will do that for you. His team recently coded five documents of historical significance onto a strand of DNA,” says Dean.

Each day, what we thought was possible changes. What does the future look like, and are you ready for it?

Related: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

Marieme Jamme

Marieme Jamme

Born in Senegal and sold into sex slavery, Marieme Jamme refused to accept the lot life had given her, and instead taught herself to code. It was a skill that enabled her to change her conditions and life. Today, through her latest venture, iamtheCODE, she has one giant, global goal: To teach one million women and girls to code by 2013.

“Marieme has a consultancy that helps tech companies get a foothold into Africa, the Middle east, Latin America and Asia, and she’s also focused on her mission to help other women and girls escape their fates by learning to code,” says Dean. “She’s one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever come accross.”

Sipho Maseko

Sipho Maseko

Heralded as the controversial CEO and saviour of Telkom, Sipho has helped the company rack up gains of 150%, making Telkom one of the best performing companies on the JSE. “A major focus of Telkom is getting businesses across Africa ready for tomorrow’s customers,” says Dean.

“To be ready for tomorrow’s customers though, you need to know who they are, and have a sense of what the future will bring.”

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal

A game designer, Futurist and New York Times best-selling author, Jane’s TED Talk, The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life, has over six million views to date.

Related: The 10 Strangest Secrets About Millionaires

Rapelang Rabana

Rapelang Rabana

Local tech-star Rapelang Rabana is the CEO and founder of Rekindle Learning, a company she has positioned at the crest of a rapidly rising online community across Africa.

Her mission: To deliver learning in bite-sized chunks across the continent.

Ian Russel

Ian Russel

CEO of BCX. BCX has invested millions in computer programming education so that young people from all social and economic backgrounds have the opportunity to become programmers at no cost to them.

Lars Silberbauer

Lars Silberbauer

When Lars joined LEGO as Senior Global Director of Social Media and Video, the company didn’t even have a Facebook page.

“Today LEGO has well over 12 million followers on Facebook and more than three million on YouTube where they’ve just knocked up five billion lifetime views,” says Dean.

“The big idea behind their social media campaigns is to leave the thinking to their fans. Lars understands the creative power of the crowd, and what harnessing that power can do for your business.”

Related: 8 Things Exceptional Thinkers Do Every Day

Bringing it all together

Dean Carlson

Dean Carlson

“We focus on projects that excite us, and that will change the perceptions and world views of our delegates,” says Dean. “We’ve partnered with BCX to put together an incredible event that will leave you inspired, amazed and driven to change your life and organisation – with the tools to do so.”

To find out more about the BCX Disrupt Summit or to book a seat, visit https://www.bcxdisrupt.com/

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The Youngest Body20 Franchise Owners Share Their Success Story

Brothers Stiaan and CW Pieterse believe that if you love what you do, success will automatically follow. That’s why they’ve invested in a brand that works for them — to show other people that there’s an answer to the enemy of fitness: The time-crunch.

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“I’m glad we chose Body20. I wouldn’t want to be their competitor,” says Body20 Montana owner Stiaan Pieterse. He and his brother CW, who runs Body20 Brooklyn, invested in the franchise two years ago after the amazing results they experienced as clients.

“Both Stiaan and I love to work out,” says CW. “We were clients of Body20 and couldn’t get enough of it. We were looking for a professional change and saw the brand as our ideal opportunity. It’s changed our lives and we’ve never looked back.”

Related: How Body20 Moves Their Franchisees In The Direction Of Success

Out of the ordinary

As fitness fanatics, Stiaan and CW, also known as the Brooklyn Brothers within the franchise, saw potential in the Body20 concept that gave them results equivalent to a workout of four hours minimum in the gym, in just 20 minutes. “I could not let this opportunity slip through my hands; I had to be part of it,” says Stiaan, a mechanical engineer by profession.

“To train someone in only 20 minutes and get the results in only a fraction of the time, that’s what excites me and motivates me to get up in the morning.”

Two years in, Stiaan and his brother — who studied chartered accountancy — are happy franchisees with the brand they describe as strong, firm and exceptional. This is largely thanks to the support they each receive as store owners. The constant training they receive for self-improvement as well as for their trainers is a benefit they both beam about.

“This is not one of those companies where you are seen as a number. At Body20 you’re seen as a true shareholder and owner in the brand as a whole,” says CW.

On the up and up

As two of Body20’s youngest franchisees, the brothers aren’t afraid of the challenge of owning and running two locations, but it’s passion for people and results that has seen their businesses succeed. “I love what I do and that excites me,” says Stiaan.

Related: Healthy Body20 Franchise Leads To Happy Hearts

“That excitement turns into passion and that only drives me more and more. Since being part of Body20 I have not worked a day in my life.”

Of course, it helps having a capable and equally passionate team, including head office. Both CW and Stiaan laud the 24-hour support received from MD Bertus Albertse, Franchise Relations Manager Shaun Bruin and his team who are always available to communicate.

“From the second I’ve been part of the brand I’ve grown exponentially, learnt something new every day,” says Stiaan. “With the support of the brand, the easy business model and a little elbow grease, it’s almost impossible for you not to make a success of it.”


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Enquire about your very own Body20 studio today.

Or Download the Franchise Info pack and join one of our exclusive Franchise Presentations: www.body20.co.za/key-activations/

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